Why don’t depressed people ask for help?

One of the things I’ve come to realise recently is that there can be a world of difference between the beliefs and perceptions of a depressed person, and beliefs and perceptions of someone looking at that same person from the outside.

A person may be depressed because they are mired in feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy and failure. It’s really hard to ask for help when you know that the problems are of your making. The perception of being the cause of all that is wrong may not be accurate, but it makes expressing distress impossible – it would just add more shame and humiliation to the mix.

A depressed person may feel guilt and shame because they see the things that are hurting them as fairly minor compared to the ’real’ problems out there in the world, and they are embarrassed to make a fuss about what seem like trivial things.

A person who is not coping may feel that it is their fault because they can’t be positive enough. We all know the memes about life is what you make it, and gratitude and making the best of things. A person in too much pain may feel guilty that they aren’t appreciative enough, aren’t trying hard enough. They may feel they should be able to think better and expect to be blamed if they express distress.

A person may feel as though they deserve to suffer – for the above reasons, and also because they may believe they’re basically no good and that the ‘like attracts like’ idea is true and that things happen to them because they deserve it. Someone who has been groomed for abuse, is especially likely to feel that they deserve what was done to them.

Fear of having your feelings rubbished keeps a person silent. If expressing pain generally leads to being told why you shouldn’t feel that way, then you soon learn not to mention it. If you are treated as melodramatic, making a fuss, being unreasonable, then you learn to stay silent and will likely feel more to blame and more at fault for your depression as a consequence.

Not wanting to deal with unhelpful feedback keeps people silent. The world and his dog feel entitled to hand out unsolicitied medical advice – eat this, don’t eat that, do this therapy, practice mindfulness… as though we depressed people have never tried to find solutions, and as though our problems are really caused by us, and not by circumstances. Almost every ‘cure’ for depression assumes the problem is the sufferer, but increasingly the evidence suggests that depression is caused by experience. Interventions that reinforce the responsibility of the sufferer can be really awful to encounter when suffering, silence protects us from this and from further cycles of guilt and shame, caused by feeling responsible for a depression you cannot fix.

It’s like having a sharp piece of metal stuck in your body. You may be offered pain killers. You may be told it would hurt less if you got more exercise and lost some weight. You should meditate to take your mind off the pain. You should be more grateful for other things and not pay so much attention to the sharp piece of metal. You should realise that the sharp piece of metal is a gift from the universe for your highest good. And this of course sounds like the total rubbish it is. If a person has a sharp piece of metal stuck in their body, the answer is a careful intervention that gets the metal out, cleans and closes the wound and gives them time to recover.

If we ask people why they are hurting, and what would help, and are prepared to hear it and do something with it, some of those wounds on the inside could also be cleaned, closed and healed.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Why don’t depressed people ask for help?

  • Ryan C.

    Great analogy, and I also feel frustrated at the “positive thinking” memes. Sure, mindset can play a big role in depression but you also can’t think your way out of it, and these approaches do lay a lot of responsibility (blame?) on the sufferer.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think there are very mildly depressed people who don’t know how good they’ve got it maybe can think their way out, poor little rich person and so forth, but for most people, the problems are outside of them, and real, and trying to think them away is a path to cognitive dissonance.

  • juliebond

    All so true. All the unhelpful feedback and unqualified ‘medical’ opinions make it simpler just to stay silent and hide it. If you say you’ve tried their suggested ‘cure’ and it hasn’t worked the response is often something like ‘you’re not trying hard enough’, or the one that really gets to me, ‘you don’t really want to get better’. There seems no point in responding to someone who so clearly has no idea what actual depression feels like.

    • Nimue Brown

      oh gods, with you on this, the idea that you don’t want to fix, or you’re getting something out of it that makes you want to stay there. I could cheerfully strangle people who come up with that one.

  • Redfaery


    In my case, I didn’t realize that the feelings of apathy and despair *meant* anything, because…well, I was used to nothing meaning anything in my life, and not being listened to. When I went to a routine visit with my therapist, I told her about them, and when I saw her expression become EXTREMELY serious, I just went “I’m depressed, aren’t I?”

  • Eliza Armitage

    Absolutely, everything you’ve written. It’s the same with “social anxiety”–or its old-fashioned name, shyness. It’s not a joke, it’s not childishness, and it’s not a way to gain sympathy. When one makes the mistake of admitting the fear, hearing irritated comments like “You just need to get talking to people” or “Don’t be daft” just adds extra shame on top of the urge to burst into tears and run from the room.

  • Martin

    Thanks for posting this. I can relate to much of it – when I think about why I am depressed or anxious, I tend to think that my problems are all ‘first world’ and I must be so spoilt not be happy with what I have…

  • Argenta

    Dear Nimue, your posts about depression always strike a chord with me, and more often than not make me tear up. It is so comforting to know there are people who understand what it is like; who are kind to others, and themselves about it; who also have the words to explain it.

    I loved your stuck metal analogy, and just wanted to share mine, with allergy (something I’ve also suffered from). Both of these illnesses seem to me to be the overreacting of the natural systems we have, intended to protect us. But they can become too sensitive, and turn against us. The triggers, I think, are both within and outside as well. There are things we can do to help with our own part of the problem: I’ve successfully dealt with allergies by eating better and being outside a lot — which helped with the depression, too.

    However, it is wrong to forget how much the outside world also affects our well-being, and I am glad it is slowly being talked about more. If the environment is polluted and the food available rubbish, how can they say that allergies are just our own problems? If we are put in situations beyond our control that lower the quality of our lives, how can they say depression is just our brains not working?

    Of course, it is easy blaming it on the sufferer. Then all you have to do is try to “fix” one person and their mental or immune system. But most of the drugs just mask the problem instead of solving it. Because the real solution would require so much change of the entire society and the way we live, it is hardly mentioned at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: